Tuesday, September 20, 2016

POBB September 14, 2016

Pick of the Brown Bag
September 14, 2016
Ray Tate

It’s another short week for the Pick of the Brown Bag, but we’ll add a review of Star Trek Into the Darkness to fill up the remainder of the pages.  This week I’ll be reviewing Batman and Steed and Peel, Red Hood and the Outlaws, Southern Cross and the new book from Amigo Sidney Hammer and the Wicker Wolf.  

The Cybernauts controlled by Michaela Gough follow the signal emitted from Steed’s pen to the Batcave.  Fortunately, the Cybernauts are unliving mechanical men, and Michaela could not possibly ferret out the way to the Batcave through Cybernaut VR viewing.  So Batman’s secret identity is safe.

The quartet of crimefighters must fight off an army of Cybernauts within the Batcave.  Fortunately, the Batcave even in the nineteen sixties is huge.  So there’s plenty of room to deploy various tricks to keep the Cybernauts at bay until Batman can arrange something more permanent and plausible.  This fairplay solution is the high point of the book.

With the Cybernauts defeated, Batman, Robin, Steed and Peel burn rubber straight into a trap, set by Gough and her partner Lord Ffogg.  

Ffogg provides the low point of the book.  It’s still fairplay, just preposterous.  Mind you.  The goofy setup pays homage to a rare sixties trope, the insect woman.

Joanna Frank The Outer Limits "Zzzz"

The loudest of buzzing could be heard between 1959’s Wasp Woman and ending with 1973's Invasion of the Bee-Girls,   Turning Emma into a defacto queen with excellent animation of the divine by Matthew Dow Smith is both silly and inspired.

Jason Todd alias the Red Hood meets a decidedly different Femme Fatale in his eponymous book The Outlaws.

Artemis is a product of the1990s created by William Messner-Loebs and Mike Deodato to replace Wonder Woman.  Artemis challenged Diana for the title in a restaged contest of Bullets and Bracelets and won or got suckered into it by Wonder Woman’s mother Hippolyte.  She’s a sometimes friend/rival/ally to Diana.

This is technically the first new 52 appearance of Artemis.  Brian Azzarello created an Artemis like figure for his reboot of Wonder Woman, but she was never named as such.

Scott Lobdell draws upon Artemis' original Egyptian origins to not just give the character more depth but also provide an explanation as to why she happens to be in the vicinity of the Red Hood.

Lobdell also creates the impression that Artemis is no naive babe in the woods.  She’s just a babe.

Seriously though.  Artemis speaks English.  She’s a master ancient tactician but also modern in her thinking.  She’s familiar with the Justice League and knows of Batman and Superman.  

Faithful readers are aware that I usually balk at the superhero slugfest, but Lobdell makes this battle absolutely hilarious with the bonus of comedic dialogue.  Artist Dexter Soy taps into that vibe and while keeping the designs realistic, just cuts loose with superhero action that would kill a normal person.

Oh, and technically, neither the Red Hood nor Artemis are superheroes.  The Red Hood is a deep cover agent amidst Black Mask’s ranks.  He however doesn’t work for an organization.  Just himself.  Artemis is an Amazon warrior, plain and simple.

Sidney Hammer and the Wicker Wolf is a delicious slice of cheesecake with a self-explanatory title.  All right.  Maybe not.  Sidney Hammer is our cover girl.  She with the big rack and the see-through stripes.

Writer/Creator Alejandro Miguel de Hoyos a.k.a. Massacre casts Sidney as a journalist who happens to be a bad penny. Think of a Kolchak the Night Stalker only in abbreviated shorts.

Now, it may seem like I’m complaining about the overt sexiness of our heroine, but nothing could be farther from the truth.  The fact is I applaud the unique, provocative artwork that serves up its dessert on a plate of sufficient action and cements a genuinely appealing character into a distinctive form.  We get to know Sidney not from her bra size—she’s not wearing one—but from the narrative.

Sidney is a self-aware, snarky figure who when trying to do a good deed ends up fighting a werewolf.  This is hardly a spoiler.  Though Sidney is accompanied on her journey by a cowardly dog, Scooby Doo, Sidney Hammer is not.

Sidney’s attempt at resolving he situation peacefully is a nice touch.  

Of course, it comes to no avail, and Sid ends up fighting a werewolf in a swathe of interesting, visceral choreography.  This bout however is not the be all, end all of the book.  De Hoyos has more in mind for the multilayered thriller.

Sidney Hammer comes in the form of an attractive no-ads magazine, which beautifully captures the scale of the artwork.  The paper stock is excellent, and added to the quality of the comedy/horror story and adult-oriented artwork, it’s certainly worth the typical comic book asking price of three-ninety-nine.

Southern Cross returns with a new mystery set against an industrial science fiction space opera.  The story starts out cute.

The vehicle looks like an Eji Tsubaraya model, which is a high compliment.  The craft searches for an escape pod from The Southern Cross lost in space through the events from the previous issues.  Kyril the no-good grifter survived the trip by ejecting before the encounter.  Now, he finds himself on Titan.  

The protective masks of the security detail quickly dispel the charm of the vehicle, and Belanger's art overall is appropriately threatening and gritty, not elegant, nor Utopian.

Investigators Carter and Hazel immediately question Kyril and discover a common thread in his story and a body they have in the morgue.  Things get worse from there.

In a way, the current issue of Southern Cross recapitulates the chapters and the look from previous issues.  For example, to express the scale and scope of The Romulus, Belanger presents the architecture in the same way he cutaway the Southern Cross.

The difference lies in the characters.  We don't care about Kyril the way we do about Alex and the Captain.  That changes the mood of the whole scene.  The Southern Cross appeared magnificent and welcoming despite its industrial in sync appearance.  The rig conveys animosity and a penal quality.  The structure encloses Kyril; he receives his just desserts for his actions on the Southern Cross.

When Carter and Hazel leave him in the capable hands of brutalizers, Cloonan evolves humor from the situation.  Kyril is a skunk.  He deserved a sound thrashing a long time ago.

The story all seems like setup an summary, particularly when Cloonan delves deep into Carter's history.  Then she pulls the rug out from under you, as a good mystery writer should.  The cliffhanger to the most recent issue of Southern Cross leaves you completely flabbergasted.  Cloonan gleefully breaks the rules.

Star Trek Into the Darkness begins with the running joke of Christopher Pine as Captain James T. Kirk running from an alien life form.  He'll repeat the gag in Star Trek Beyond, with even greater humorous effect, but Into the Darkness shoots for something more than just comedy.

The vivid reds of the foliage and the marvelous look and behavior of the aliens of Nibiru present a truly gorgeous alien world.  Kirk and the crew of the Starship...Enterprise lay in wait on Nibiru in order to grant Spock a moment to deal with a volcano that threatens to overcome the dominant lifeforms.

Spock intends to use a freeze bomb to eliminate the hazard.  Much nitpicking has been made about cold fusion not actually being cold and referring to the bomb as a cold fusion device was ham-fisted.  Uh-huh.  Why wouldn't somebody in the future nickname an icing bomb with an obsolete monicker from past technology?  I see no issue with it.

Anyway, Spock's heroic actions earn him a heroic death...if not for Kirk taking a spanner to the Prime Directive and saving his green-blooded ass.  This moment effervesces comedy from the aliens witnessing the superb manifestation of Enterprise.  If you didn't know who Kirk was before, you know him now.

The moment of revelation acts as the crux of the movie.  It triggers Kirk's demotion and gives older fans a taste of the consequences that never seemed to be in play for original universe Starfleet regulations.  William Shatner's Kirk always skirted the Prime Directive, but he never saw any blowback.  This version of Kirk becomes Christopher Pike's number one and loses his command.

The demotion leads to Kirk's first encounter with John Harrison an alias employed by none other than Khan Noonien Singh, masterfully essayed by Benedict Cumberbatch.  

The casting choice caused white washing waves, but frankly I don't care.  Ricardo Montelban wasn't an Indian either.  Both actors grant Khan memorable life.  Now, I'm not suggesting an Indian actor couldn't have done justice to Khan, but what we got was pretty damned good.

The way in which Kirk meets Khan one again depends upon the timeline creation of the first film.  Time doesn't flow as one expects.  Starfleet uncovered Khan's ship The Botany Bay much earlier than Kirk did.  Khan wants revenge not on Kirk, with whom he allies in a clever twist, but on Starfleet.

Starfleet's corruption may seem to be something strange, but this theme actually played out in the final film of the original Star Trek series and carried over to Deep Space Nine.  In the movie, Kirk and crew preclude the spread of this undercurrent in Starfleet thus preserving the themes throughout all three films.  Starfleet is not a military organization.  It's an exploratory body.

This second Star Trek movie wowed me even more than the first.  Its big ideas reflective of all the series in the original universe fascinate.  Its reworking of Khan and the timeline in a tight plot is worthy of "Space Seed" and Wrath of Khan.  I would however be remiss if not discussing what irked most viewers, namely the reverse death.

Kirk's death mirrors that of Spock, and for many that was just way too cutesy.  Let me see if I can counter that argument.  What we're seeing here is a jumbled timeline.  Events occur but in different order, sometimes with different people and different circumstances.  It makes sense that Kirk dies.  His final words make sense, and the foreshadowed, optimistic save makes sense and grants a grand finale in the Star Trek tradition.  

Despite inspiring the world to imagine the possibility of advanced human technology, Star Trek often depended on a fist fight to metaphorically or literally conclude the story.  Into the Darkness pits an alien superman Spock against a eugenic superman Khan at first just to express rage but then to create a dramatic dilemma and a surprisingly optimistic finale.

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